Bhaskar Sompalli: Missing the Library

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Libraries are consistently the most popular of public institutions. They’re adapting to the pandemic but Bhaskar Sompalli longs for the days of unfettered browsing.

I read an article recently that nostalgia can help us cope with crisis. In these past months of worldwide crisis that the virus has precipitated, I find that I am nostalgic for browsing through books in the local library. Yes, I know that there are e-books that I could download right into my e-reader, without leaving the comfort of my house. But there is something special about walking up and down aisles of bookshelves stocked with books that are bursting with ideas.

In my mind, going to a library is like going to a carnival: a carnival where Yuval Harari presents his unique take on human evolution in one aisle, while Dorian Gray’s portrait silently tells us all about the corruption of the soul in another. Our library was the soul of our community, bustling with activity, and filled with intelligent people whispering in a dozen languages. All that vanished in a heartbeat.

We humans are visual and tactile creatures, who like to touch and feel things. We are social animals, preferring to congregate and argue and laugh. It is this very essence of being human, that the virus used to wreak havoc.

Rightfully so, it has made us all fearful of communal places like libraries. But libraries have responded cleverly as well, switching to a wider online presence and delivering books like a fulfillment center: customers order their books and drive up to the library, and librarians bring the books over to them. I feared that the library would transform into a soul-less warehouse of artifacts like in the closing scene of the movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Thankfully, they’ve managed to innovate and stay relevant in these troublesome times.


Yet, the heart wants what it wants: I long for one of those good old days when I could simply sit in a cozy corner in my library, surrounded by books and read a book.

With a Perspective, this is Bhaskar Sompalli.

Bhaskar Sompalli is a scientist. He lives in the East Bay.